I love the beginning of a new year filled with hope and possibilities.
Here at the California Breastfeeding Coalition, we’re looking forward to our annual California Breastfeeding Summit, Advocacy Day and continued partnerships with state agencies, local breastfeeding coalitions, community-based organizations and lactation advocates like you.
Personally, though, it’s time for a new beginning of my own. If you’ve been closely connected to the CBC over the past few years, you know my husband, Greg, has been in declining health. After almost losing him before Christmas, I realized it’s time for me to enter a new phase of life, both personally and professionally.
Today, I’m stepping down as Executive Director of the California Breastfeeding Coalition, and Board Chair Gaby Cavins is stepping up as Interim Executive Director. You already know her as the leader of our Lactation Advocacy Network and have likely seen her breastfeeding her daughter, Lyanna, during coalition meetings and events. Born in Peru, Gaby is a former U.S. Naval officer who grew up in Texas and has a long history of advocating on behalf of pregnant and lactating workers in and outside of the military.
Though I will no longer “steer the ship,” as some would say, I’m not going far. I’ll continue working with the coalition on a part-time basis focused on education and advocacy initiatives and supporting the transition to new leadership.
I’ve started and stopped this letter to you several times over the past few weeks. It’s hard to leave something you love as much as I love this coalition and all it represents. When I think about all we’ve accomplished since incorporating back in 2011, I’m in awe that I had the honor of witnessing our history in the making.
And yet current life circumstances have shown me firsthand what families go through as they try to balance the competing priorities of work and family. Even in California, where we enjoy some of the strongest job-protection policies in the nation, there is a huge gap in what families truly need and the services available to support their success.
I think back to when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and the State Disability Insurance program and Family Medical Leave Act allowed me both job protection and wage replacement to focus on my health and healing. I had an assigned nurse who called regularly to check on me. My medical team showed care and compassion beyond my cancer diagnosis. They provided resources to support me and those who love me physically, emotionally and financially.
But as the caregiver for my ailing husband, I get almost none of that. Paid Family Leave and FMLA, plus working for an organization that’s truly family-friendly in word and deed, gives me more support than a lot of people in my situation receive. And it’s not enough.
Nobody calls to check in on my emotional or physical health. Nobody comes to the house to check on Greg’s well-being. It’s up to me to navigate the systems of health care, insurance and social services.
The same is true for the families we serve as breastfeeding and lactation advocates. Parents have to navigate complicated systems to figure out what they want out of their infant-feeding experiences, depending greatly on the support of others, while being constantly confronted with exploitative formula marketing that preys on their deepest insecurities and fears.
Though the road ahead is uncertain, I’m excited to see the passion among our state’s emerging leaders. As we’ve planned the 2023 California Breastfeeding Summit, I’m impressed by the individuals committed to continuing the work and feel really good about the space I’m making for others to step up as I step down. I know Gaby’s fresh perspective will bring positive change to our organization as we continue protecting, promoting and supporting chest-, breast- and human milk-feeding in California and beyond.
Relationships have defined my work because they matter to me. It’s time now for me to focus on my most important relationship, the one I have with Greg, for the remaining time we have together.
It’s been a privilege to represent you as the founding leader of the California Breastfeeding Coalition. I hope to see you at our upcoming Summit, Advocacy Day and local coalition events.
With warm regards,
Robbie Gonzalez-Dow, Executive Director